Malnutrition, undernutrition or malnutrition is rather rare in the western world, but malnutrition can occur due to misunderstood diet or unbalanced nutrition. Children and adolescents in particular can suffer great damage to their mental and physical development as a result of malnutrition. This should be avoided by eating a healthy and balanced diet.

What is malnutrition?

According to Whicheverhealth, malnutrition is a one-sided, deficient diet in which important additives, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins are missing. Malnutrition is specified in malnutrition and undernutrition.

Malnutrition is a condition in which the body shows clear signs of a lack of energy. The missing components ( protein, vitamins) have to be supplied to the body in other ways in order to maintain a functioning metabolism.

Malnutrition is often associated with a vitamin deficiency. In the case of malnutrition, those affected usually also suffer from underweight and/or dehydration. Put simply, malnutrition describes a mismatch between nutrient requirements and nutrient intake.


Older people and nursing home patients are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, especially when they are no longer able to take care of their own diet and do not consume enough food and liquids.

Morbid anorexia nervosa leads to significant malnutrition. Here we are no longer talking about malnutrition, but about malnutrition, which if left untreated can lead to death. Young girls in particular are affected by this form of malnutrition. This eating disorder has its causes in the social sphere (fashion, slimness ideal) and must be treated primarily psychologically.

The same applies to bulimia (eating addiction). A food intolerance or an excessive change in diet as part of a diet can also lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition is often associated with poverty.

In fact, people in developing countries often suffer from life-threatening malnutrition due to unbalanced and lack of food. Eating just one food (mainly fish, mainly rice) also leads to serious deficiency symptoms.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of malnutrition affect the entire body when all or almost all nutrients are lacking. Otherwise, there are also specific symptoms in the absence of individual substances.

A lack of carbohydrates leads to circulatory problems, tiredness, a feeling of weakness and headaches. Sometimes there are visual disturbances. A protein deficiency manifests itself in a weakened immune system and a reduction in muscle mass. In addition, the body’s self-healing powers are weakened and other diseases tend to take a more severe course.

A lack of individual vitamins or minerals shows up in various symptoms. This leads to changes in the complexion and hair growth. Iron deficiency leads to anemia and severe fatigue.

Other symptoms that can occur with malnutrition include, for example, permanent circulatory problems. These increase the risk of falls and accidents. Movement processes can be disturbed, the skeletal muscles become weaker. The risk of a broken bone is increased. This can also be caused by broken down substance in the bones.

A weakened heart also occurs. It usually pumps more slowly and abnormal heart rhythms develop. Breathing also becomes shallower, the breaths become shorter.

A slight malnutrition usually only leads to exhaustion and loss of appetite. Severe malnutrition can trigger the symptoms listed and also neurological disorders (especially temporary neurological lapses).

Diagnosis & History

Malnutrition starts slowly and is hardly noticed at first. The body feels weak and tired, and there are also difficulties in concentrating and an increased susceptibility to illnesses ( colds, skin rashes ).

Weight loss only becomes noticeable later, because the body initially draws the missing nutrients from its own reserves in the event of malnutrition. The skin turns gray and dries out, muscle atrophy and stomach inflammation occur. Obese people suffer from circulatory problems due to malnutrition.

The family doctor can detect malnutrition by visual inspection and a blood test. Being underweight can be a sign of malnutrition. Parents should pay attention to changes in their children’s eating habits and intervene in good time. Dehydration (not drinking enough fluids) over a long period of time can lead to anemia and even a stroke.


Quantitative malnutrition always leads to a number of subsequent complications if it is not compensated for. In addition to pure weight loss and lack of energy, this is accompanied by consequences such as poor wound healing, a severely weakened immune system and the reduction in bone density. The eyesight and the brain are also affected, so that cognitive disorders also set in.

Insufficient intake of fat also always leads to an insufficient intake of fat-soluble vitamins, which also has a sensitive effect on cell health and the immune system. Consequential complications of malnutrition can be triggered by simple infectious diseases, minor injuries or increased stress. All suffering is exacerbated by the circulatory problems and nerve damage that can be attributed to a lack of minerals.

A lack of iron leads, among other things, to anemia. The complication that comes at the end of any serious malnutrition is death. Children in particular are affected here. Qualitative malnutrition leads to complications that depend on the type of substance that is not or not sufficiently ingested.

Lack of vitamins and minerals lead to nervous disorders, immune system limitations and general weakness. Older people in particular are affected here. The lack of strength also exacerbates existing conditions, which increases the mortality rate from cardiovascular problems and the like.

Inadequate intake of protein and fat causes, among other things, muscle breakdown and tissue degeneration. At the end of quantitative malnutrition there is not necessarily death. Rather, diseases that are aggravated by malnutrition are a risk factor.

When should you go to the doctor?

Malnutrition is a serious condition that should usually always be treated by an appropriate doctor. In the case of an existing malnutrition, the human body lacks important nutrients that are not absorbed in the normal way. For this reason, these nutrients must be supplied artificially. The important nutrients must be administered with dietary supplements or through an artificial tube. Those who do without medical and drug treatment are exposing themselves to great risk.

In many cases, this leads to general malaise, headaches and a weakening of the entire immune system. Affected people are more susceptible to infectious diseases because no defenses can be built up. The following therefore applies: If malnutrition is present, the visit to the doctor should not be delayed. A doctor should be consulted as soon as the first signs and symptoms appear. However, the cause of malnutrition must be diagnosed. Merely combating or eliminating the symptoms is not sufficient. However, those who seek medical treatment early can expect a quick and complete recovery.

Treatment & Therapy

Malnutrition is easy to treat. The trigger, namely the one-sided diet, must be changed. The nutrient supply must be adapted to the nutrient requirement. Extremely anorexic patients are given electrolytes and nutrient solutions by drip. A person can survive on little food for a long period of time. However, the body always needs sufficient amounts of liquid.

To prevent dehydration, a person must drink at least a liter of water, tea or juice daily. Two liters of water would be ideal. Malnutrition is not necessarily a poverty problem in Germany. Even with little money, a balanced diet can be ensured. If there is already a clear malnutrition, the change in diet is supported with vitamin and nutritional supplements so that the body can recover more quickly.

The stomach also has to slowly get used to the improved change in diet. Protein-rich food, dairy products and lots of fruit and vegetables are important. Severely overweight people should have a planned diet monitored by their GP to prevent malnutrition.

Outlook & Forecast

Malnutrition can have different effects. Basically, the cause and the extent of the wrong or missing food consumption play an important role in the prognosis. General statements are difficult. In the following, they can only be formulated for the economic area of ​​the industrialized countries.

In Germany, addicts and older people are considered risk groups. People who emulate false ideals of beauty are also susceptible to one-sided nutritional cycles. For example, alcoholics have increased nutritional needs resulting from their pathological behavior. Senior citizens are often neglected or no longer invest in their lives. In principle, these groups of people can be helped. The earlier therapy begins, the greater the chance of healing. Conversely, if malnutrition is tolerated over a longer period of time, irreparable damage can develop.

According to scientific surveys, malnutrition in older people often goes undetected. They have an increased risk of death, which is also due to the limited regenerative power of the body. Other causes such as poverty, loneliness or depression can usually be addressed in talk therapy. Malnutrition is often related to a psychological imbalance.


Malnutrition is prevented with a healthy, balanced diet. Eating meals together and a relaxed atmosphere at the dining table are particularly important for families with children. Bad eating habits are often “homemade” and promote malnutrition through an unbalanced diet. Small snacks in the form of yoghurt or an apple also prevent malnutrition.


Since malnutrition is a consequence of a long-term improper diet, follow-up care focuses on permanently preventing malnutrition from reoccurring. Those affected should try to eat healthy and balanced food on a regular basis. With increasing strength, performance increases, but physical activities should be taken up cautiously. If the malnutrition came about in connection with the obsession with losing weight, which primarily affects children and young people, the aftercare should also include restoring mental health. False role models and illusory ideas are often the reason for the refusal to eat. It can be helpful to consult a psychologist who therapeutically accompanies the recovery process. Malnutrition among adolescents in the western world should be taken seriously, if weight loss is not stopped, death will ultimately follow.

You can do that yourself

Malnutrition does not necessarily mean going to a doctor. It is often enough to compensate for the energy and nutrient deficits through dietary measures.

We recommend a balanced and wholesome diet that contains all the important vitamins and minerals. First of all, the affected person should eat small portions, preferably food that he likes and that is easily digestible and wholesome. If the ability to chew or swallow is limited, the food should be pureed before consumption. Elderly people sometimes need individual attention during mealtimes. Special aids such as sippy cups also make it easier to eat.

If there is a serious condition underlying malnutrition, it must be treated first. Therefore, a doctor should be consulted in any case with recurring deficiency symptoms. In the case of pronounced malnutrition, the person concerned must be taken to the nearest hospital. In this case, no further self-help measures should be taken. Slight malnutrition sometimes also has psychological causes that have to be dealt with as part of therapy. Basically, the causes should be clarified before severe physical symptoms or serious eating disorders occur.